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September 10, 2010
What difference can a degree or two make? Well the answer, as I’m sure that you will know is a lot. The image below taken from the IPCC’s fourth assessment report (AR4) gives a simple (although now out of date) picture of what a degree means.
The impacts and extent of climate change is subtle and effects unevenly distributed, a degree for one country such as the UK or the US may not be an existential crisis but for people living in small island developing states (SIDS) is certainly is. These states, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea make up 5% of the world’s population and a great proportion of the worlds cultural diversity. It’s no secret that these states are the most vulnerable to climate change but for these countries the numbers that are negotiated literally in no uncertain terms mean the life of death of their homeland, and their culture. At Copenhagen some of the most moving and courageous speeches were made by these states and I would urge you to take a look at the following two speeches by Tuvalu and The Maldives who have fought the corner for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for a long time.
These are some of the issues such states have to deal with:
- Sea level rise, many islands are only a few meters above sea level with precious little fresh water. Coasts are only able to adapt so slow levels of sea level change.
- Many islands are made exclusively of coral reefs on top of old sea mountains (Atolls). These islands rely on coral reefs for food (Fish) and protection from erosion. When corals are physically stressed they kick out the algae that feed them and die. This is known as bleaching and happens when they are too hot, or don’t get enough light. In addition corals skeletons rely on how acidic the oceans are. Changes in the oceans from increased CO2 in the atmosphere may stop skeletons of corals growing (see this great animation by Leo Murray) or even cause them to dissolve.
- Many islands in the Caribbean the Indian and the Pacific Ocean lie in tropical storm track (hurricanes =Atlantic, typhoons = Indian, cyclones = Pacific). These storms cause great damage and loss of life, for example Haiti last year.
For them numbers matter in a big way, the two big ones being 350ppm (for the scientific basis of this number click here) CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere and 1.5C. Today I was lucky enough to attend a very interesting side event (A meeting about a topic not directly involved in the UNFCCC talks) by the prestigious Potsdam Institute for climate change. The event was focused on the 1.5C limit which is largely though of as the survival limit for small island states as well as for the livelihoods for low-lying deltaic countries such as Bangladesh. This event was amazing because it summarised the latest published and yet to be published research on the feasibility of a 1.5C limit (i.e. what we can and cannot emit), the economic cost of achieving this world, the impacts of not doing so as well as the current direction of negotiations. Literally a commentary on the future of the home for over 0.3 billion people held in a room with less than 25 people present, mostly NGO representatives and a few members from delegations. Heres the gist of what I heard.
Currently the Copenhagen Accord fails to come close to the 50% chance of achieving the 2C target agreed in the document (see previous post). It’s hard to see how this will get better if a bottom up approach to emissions reductions (countries set their own targets) is adopted in the long-term as advocated by the USA and other Annex I (developed) countries.
The Potsdam Institute has been working on emissions scenarios (whats an emissions scenario?) that would enable small islands to survive, they call these the 1.5C/350 scenario and the star wars like ICP-3pD scenario (soon to be published in the Energy Journal). The first will peak at 1.5C with 350ppm in the atmosphere some time after 2100. The second is slightly higher, in the 400′s. What they found is that the only way these are possible is using negative emissions. Thats right, actually sucking CO2 from the air before the end of the century. This may sound silly but its possible if we burn plant material then place it underground using CCS (see this free paper for more detail) and its thought this will be technically possible, think I-phone technology curve or jet engines. Another example is the rapid development and spread of the wind industry by the Danish Government, current world leader in the sector. In fact they did the maths and found that these carbon negative scenarios would cost economies roughly 1-2 years growth in 100years. Less than the occasional banking crisis! However for this to be possible emissions must peak before 2020 and then fall on average 3-4% per year, still perfectly doable you would think.
However, no matter how many times AOSIS puts 350ppm or 1.5C into the negotiating text, developed countries remove them using the argument that they are unfeasible or impossible or too costly (Ahem… Johnathan Pershing of the USA). Now this is where it gets interesting, whos doing their modelling? Well their own research institutions of course (Stanford). Today we were told otherwise by top scientists and economists, we were also told that in fact the models quoted by the US government were designed not to be able to incorporate negative emissions, i.e. the model limits make it physically impossible to evaluate 1.5C. Thats not the same as 1.5C being physically impossible or too expensive as the US and company like to claim. Maybe they are just naive however I think not, this is a clear example of the battle over scientific information affecting the negotiations. In other words who’s scientific advice is better, academic imperialism might be another description. In our interviews for FIG so far we have already heard about the lack of research institutions in developing countries being a problem. It seems here that science and the results of research institutions are being exploited in a partisan way, which although hardly unexpected is rather sinister considering that it is being used to justify the wiping of so many peoples livelihoods from the earth. Here is another rather glaring information gap, an inequality in scientific advice and for that matter scientific institutions. It’s important that this counter message gets out, it can be done and it is affordable but only if we act now with global emissions peaking before 2020. 1.5c and 350ppm are the only desirable targets with the added benefit that the European 2C target would then have a 95% probablility of being met.
Heres the possible future for SIDS without it.
2C: Corals may no longer grow. hurricane numbers drop but strength increases. Increases El Nino and the economic ruin that causes. Rises in sea level by 2-5m plus by 2300, 1m by 2100 still with a fast rate of increase. Changes is ecosystems etc etc.
You get the picture. When you are here and you speak to individuals, the sometimes inaccessible, unemotive numbers suddenly have gravity. They can make you heart heavy and your stomach drop. Today upon asking a female delegate from Micronesia how she felt she replied in a horribly resigned manner “I think we are pretty screwed” the sad thing is that about sums up the situation. Academic inequality (the knowledge gap) is taking 1.5C off the negotiating table and it’s just not on.
Small island states at Copenhagen – on The Stupid Show
December 19, 2009
In the final hours of negotiations – a bit more about what’s at stake for Kiribati
December 17, 2009
Waiting waiting …
December 17, 2009
Today we are sat with David, the lawyer from the Kiritbati delegation watching the presidential addresses. Each head of state gets up on stage and delivers some carefully chosen words. Endlessly they take the stage and talk about cooperation and fighting climate change together. And while they talk the real negotiating hasn’t even started. We are still waiting for what’s called the chair’s draft text. This is a text for the agreement to be signed up to by all the countries. It is written by the chairs and then negotiated on. Once the text is produced countries will add and subtract sentences words and commas from it. They’ll add and remove brackets. They’ll bargain with each other about what stays in the text and how it’s phrased. This process is complicated and time consuming. It needs to start now.
Kiribati: we will be the first to go
December 15, 2009
The good, the bad and the grazers
December 13, 2009
Today we’ve been busy attending, taking notes and summarising the main plenary sessions for Kiribati. The talks have been tense and amongst the inhuman UN language there have been tears and anger from the official negotiators. We witnessed the spokesperson from Tuvalu break down as he spoke in utter desperation to save his culture, community and livelihood. The future of his whole country is in the hands of a few.
Watching the Alliance of Small Island States hold their press conference last night, we could feel the exhaustion in their words… the dark lines under their eyes showed how stretched the small delegations are. They have to negotiate and hold press conferences whilst larger delegations have individuals who do nothing but rest and deliver speeches.
The wonderful Bella Center, the host of the COP15 conference, only has a capacity of 15,000. The Secretariat, the people who keep the conference ticking over, are putting into place what’s called ‘double-badging’. This means that as of Tuesday, we might not be allowed in anymore. So Kiribati’s already tiny team will be reduced even further.
Sound like fair play? Not really.
As of this week, only a limited number of NGO people (like us at UN Fair Play) will be allowed in. So even though we’re doing important work for a vulnrable, underrepresented country we might be left hanging around outside unable to do anything. We won’t be able attend meetings for them, take notes or summarise documents.
It’s doubly frustrating because lots of people we’ve met here aren’t even doing very much. We’ve started calling them “grazers”
They just wander around “grazing”, popping in, popping out, collecting stickers and papers and aren’t really interested in any of the negotiations… they seem to think of COP as a festival rather than the official negotiations of the most important meeting ever to exist. So we’re angry at being bumped off the list when there are people in the conference who don’t really need to be here.
It doesn’t help our situation but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s good to moan. We’re trying hard to get round this situation. We’ll keep you posted.
Kiribati – a call to the world
December 12, 2009
So we’ve told you a lot about the work we’ve been doing for Kiribati, and a lot about the negotiations in Copenhagen. But not very much about Kiribati it’s self. To give you sense a of the country we are working for, and how they are threatened by climate change, here is short video about Kiribati.
You may be following the whirlwind of stories in the press that is engulfing Copenhagen. Unless you’re superhuman you’re probably confused, as are many delegates here. For a country that can’t send many negotiators, keeping up with the endless simultaneous meetings, working groups and documents becomes an impossible task. Kiribati, the island state we are currently working with, are in this position. So to keep us all up to speed on who is saying what we went to a useful briefing on the positions currently being advocated at Copenhagen.
We thought we’d share what we found out with you. Thank you to E3G Third Generation Environmentalism (http://www.e3g.org/) for providing the briefing.
China, the EU and the US are responsible for 50-60% of global emissions and India, Russia and Canada are also big contributors, so all need to be involved in any protocol that may be signed.
Conversely, there are 100 countries that account for less than 3% of global emissions. These are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and least able to deal with it without financial aid – these are the countries we are trying to help.
The big negotiating blocs are:
This actually consists of around 137 developing countries. Within the group there are around 50 Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and 30-40 Least Developed Countries (LDC). The SIDS form a united front and are becoming very vocal in negotiations, as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). LDCs have the same messages – 350 ppm (www.350.org), increased finance and technology transfer to developing nations and 1.5oC of warming – but are far less organised.
The emerging economies of China, India and similar countries are benefiting from the current finance structure of the Kyoto Protocol (which is ignoring less developed nations and not forcing richer countries to act) but are finding it difficult to fit emissions reductions into the current framework as well as being worried about having to increase transparency.
The African Bloc
This consists of all African nations in the process. There is a significant rift between the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), like Algeria who take the side of the Middle East, and LDCs like Botswana, Malawi and Burundi who are far more…ambitious.
The US rejected the Kyoto Protocol because they claim it’s not global and won’t work. The US want a treaty that brings in developing countries and will not sign Kyoto until Non-Annex 1 (non-rich) countries, namely China and India, commit to emissions cuts and making their actions more transparent. This arguably goes against the fundamental principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ which implies that all countries have a responsibility to act but that some need to do so more than others.
Currently the US is holding up negotiations because of a lack of commitment to targets. The current target is equivalent to a mere 3-4% reduction in emissions by 2020 (from a 1990 baseline – the important bit). Earlier this week the Obama administration could not have made any stronger commitments without Congress’ approval (which it won’t have a chance of getting until Spring) but the situation may have changed. This week the EPA gave the presidential office the power to put limits on CO2 (as it is a pollutant) without going through Congress or the Senate. Woop-de-doo?
The EU concentrate more on the ‘differentiated’ part of the principle and recognise the historical responsibility of “developed” countries due to the fact that 70% of the man made CO2 in the atmosphere comes from them.
The EU target is 20% reductions by 2020 but have proposed 30% if the whole world signs up to a stronger deal. The scientific recommendations are around 40% globally. Countries like the UK are pushing for 30% but Italy and much of Eastern Europe argue that reductions of even 20% would diminish EU business to the extent that investors all leave.
They do not believe Climate Change exists and are trying to sabotage all negotiations by diverting conversation and making constant interventions. Thanks guys. Really responsible of you.
Island states and suspended negotiations
December 10, 2009
Today we find ourselves covering three streams of the negotiations for the island state of Kiribati. UNfair Play are covering meetings on carbon trading and the human rights implications of climate change.
You might remember from yesterday that the island state of Tuvalu called for the negotiations to be suspended. Here is some more detail on exactly what happened – and what the island states are calling for.
Tuvalu proposed a ‘Copenhagen protocol’ an addition to the current Kyoto Protocol. Their proposal includes emissions target in line with current science (a massively important area where current negotiations are failing) and key points on increased access to more money for developing nations. Their proposal covers emissions cuts from developed and developing countries and would make the whole negotiation process more transparent and fairer. China, India and Saudi Arabia among others opposed this stating that it is a waste of time. But for island states like Tuvalu and Kiribati an agreement like this is needed to ensure their survival.